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Employee Spotlight: Daniel Thielman

Michael Beckley
August 28, 2013

Dan Thielman

Best movie you have seen lately:

Monsters University. One thing that creates really good stories is the need to appeal to a wide variety of audiences. Good constraints make good art ñ they also make good code.

What do you do at Appian?

I'm a software engineer -- my team builds the web user interfaces and much of the server code that manifests itself as the user interface in Appian. I work in a small team with three other developers. We are very tight, there's a lot of very good dialogue; we learn a lot from each other in becoming experts in our own chosen specialty.

I can tell my work is appreciated at Appian. Good work is rewarded and noticed and that's true even for the newest employees as well as the veterans.

Why Appian?

I was hired in June, 2012 as an associate consultant, but I've since been promoted to Software Engineer II. I came to Appian from Duke University, where I graduated with a Math Major with a minor in Visual Art. I was looking for a cool place to work and it looked like my qualifications matched up with what Appian wanted. The more I talked to Appian people, the more I realized it was even cooler than it appeared on the surface. I could tell Appian was a great fit, it felt like the people I was talking to were very sharp and it was a great environment.

Why Visual Art?

I think comic art is the coolest stuff. Joe Sacco is one of my favorite visual artists. He does investigative journalism in graphic novel form. Because he works with a pencil instead of cameras, he is able to get in anywhere, to places other journalists can't go. His hand-drawn images really immerse you in the subject.

The best graphic novels or comic books use symbolism well to flex the power of the medium. A great visual artist lets you see what literary devices you can incorporate using images that might not translate well in a text-only medium. It's a lot of fun.

How did Appian help you find your calling?

I applied to Appian for consulting, but through the interview process it became clear that I would be a good fit for the engineering department. I was not a computer scientist, I had no programming language coursework, but I had a little bit of experience with logic. I had messed around with programming a bit but had never taken any classes. But here I am, barely more than a year later, a competent software engineer. I'm proud of my work, and it's all because Appian trusted me to learn to code and provided the mentorship required to make such a vast leap in my career trajectory. It was probably because that trust was placed in me that I found the gumption to do it.

What did Appian Academy do for you?

Well, it's very strange because I can't precisely articulate what service Academy provided, but it's an invaluable one. I can't do it justice with this description, but it's a vital experience and one I wouldn't want to do without it. Appian Academy very clearly establishes an environment of intellect and rigor. It's a lot of hard work but nothing to be intimidated by as long as you're motivated. No matter where they come from, Academy puts everyone on the same level, forces you to collaborate, and allows you to learn from your classmates as well as from the instructors.

I'm sure it's expensive for Appian to invest so much in training new employees for so many weeks but I found it ultimately beneficial to the company and especially to all of us.

What do you think about Indie Time at Appian?

I really love that the company provides us Indie Time in software engineering. We get about 10% of our time to work on whatever we want ñ not just product work. It allows me to explore new technologies but in addition it allows me to take care of little things, little pet peeves that would otherwise slip through the cracks. It's little things that wouldn't get done in normal circumstances because they aren't high priority for the vision of the company, and rightfully so. It could be as simple as a button not being where you want it or a common task requiring two extra clicks. But by allowing our engineers to go in and tinker with the platform the way a mechanic would with a car, we get a much more refined finish product.

How would you describe living and working in Northern Virginia/DC?

There are a lot of great social options here. You can go downtown to the national mall and see all the awesome museums, of course, but the restaurant scene is also amazing. It never gets old going to the Natural History Museum and seeing gems the size of your face. The best way I can describe it is living here is similar to New York only prettier and friendlier. If you can imagine an amenity, it is close by. For example, Appian gives out tickets for every show at Wolf Trap, a really laid-back outdoor theater here that has great concerts. There's always something to do.

- Interview conducted by Michael Beckley, CTO at Appian